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«Lettres de cachet» and Social Control in the «Ancien Régime», 1659-1789


Brian E. Strayer

Lettres de cachet, one of many social control mechanisms of Old Regime France, needs reassessment today after two centuries of distorted interpretations portraying these royal arrest warrants as symbols of despotism. In reality, these private ordres du roi were preventive measures to control deviant elements in society (juvenile delinquents, prostitutes, the insane, etc.). These ordres enabled the King, police, and parents to preserve family honor, enforce socially acceptable behavior, and prevent crimes embarrassing to the family and disruptive to social harmony. This book examines the legal and administrative framework, police methods and procedures, family problems and concerns, and the actual lifestyles of inmates at some of the foremost carceral institutions of 17th and 18th century Paris from 1650 to 1789.
Contents: This book examines the nature, purpose, and implementation of lettres de cachet by the King, police, penal officials, and families to control delinquency, inansity, prostitution, and other offenses by means of detentions in Paris institutions.